ZACHARY —The Zachary Community School Board voted Thursday to change the focus of its Port Hudson Career Academy next year, discontinuing it as a separate school and transferring its programs to Zachary High School.

Executive Director of Academics Michelle Clayton said the change “will open a lot of opportunities for our kids.”

About 70 students are now participating in the Flanacher Road facility’s “learning center,” including those who are academically at-risk and may be pursuing an equivalency diploma or a high school diploma.

The learning center offers a smaller learning environment and provides differentiated instruction for students at all academic levels, while meeting their emotional and social needs, Zachary administrators have said.

“The learning center students will stay. That is their school for all practical purposes, but they will become Zachary High School students,” Clayton said.

The campus was home to Port Hudson Elementary School when it was under the East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s jurisdiction. Zachary took over the school in 2003 and renovated it 2009 to open the career academy.

The school also has an “alternative school” for students who have been suspended or expelled from their regular schools. The board plans to contract with a private provider, as it once did, to serve those students.

The board plans to spend about $2 million to build and equip a new vocational building on the site. A construction bid was awarded in August, but the work has been delayed by the recent wet weather and difficulties in getting city-parish permits, Facilities Planning Chairman Scott Swilley said.

The addition will have four classrooms with adjoining workshop bays for teaching automotive technology, construction techniques and industrial production processes, Clayton said. The purpose for a fourth bay has not been determined, Clayton said.

As the district’s College and Career Academy, Port Hudson will offer the programs to all high school students, Clayton said.

It also could offer summer opportunities for students to take art, poetry, LSU and Southern University short courses, engineering and robotics and other enrichment programs, according a proposal given board members at a committee meeting Tuesday.

As a separate school, Port Hudson has been given an F letter grade in the last two state accountability rankings, typically because the students who have either selected the smaller learning environment or been suspended or expelled do not achieve high scores on state tests, administrators have said.

Their scores now will be counted among those of all high school students.

Other topics before the board included:

TOP STUDENTS: Board members recognized the district’s 2012-13 Students of the Year: Kynlee Rheams, Early Learning Center; Carson Woodard, Northwestern Elementary; Kayla Johnson, Rollins Place Elementary; Katherine Higgins, Zachary Elementary; Julie Odom, Copper Mill Elementary; Ashleigh Martin, Northwestern Middle; Ikenna Nzewi, Zachary High; and Sarah Moore, Port Hudson Career Academy.

ARCHITECT NAMED: The board selected Henry Carville as the architect for a $2.3 million project to build a gymnasium and additional classrooms at Copper Mill Elementary School.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Friday, March 1, 2013, to add Katherine Higgins of Zachary Elementary as a student of the year.